Sunday, 13 July 2014

One Night in Bangkok

How on earth did we end up in Thailand already? It was to be our last country on our yearlong tour, and suddenly we were there.  I use the term loosely because in actual fact we visited 28 countries and spent a year travelling before we made our way to Thailand, but still it seemed sudden.   It was rather unbelievable having only a single digit number of days left before we started heading towards home.  We had a lot of ground to cover, places to go, people to meet, and lots of shopping to do.  Perhaps if we jam packed our days with outings, we could prolong the end.  In reflection that was wishful thinking and our time in Thailand flew by in a heartbeat.
On the bus checking out the city.
The fastest way to get downtown was by boat on the Chaopraya River
Cool tuk-tuks, although we never actually had a ride in one!
The Asiatique Night Market
Temple Arun "Temple of Dawn"
We need to get a couple of these signs for the cottage!  Too funny!
We booked into a beautiful Air BNB for our adventures in Bangkok.  In the middle of the city we felt like we were in the jungle.  The greenery was beautiful, the sounds of nature so soothing and our hosts exceptional.  Raewyn and Charlie spoiled us and made us feel so comfortable.  Our favourite moments were spent on the deck, feasting on fruit, listening to the sound of the wind chimes, cooling off in the pool and watching a very large and unwelcome lizard roam around the property, “pinching” fish from Charlie’s ponds.  We even treated ourselves to some traditional Thai cuisine, home cooked by Charlie’s sister and delivered right to our door. 
Mmm mango!
It is a rough life!
A little piece of heaven in the garden!
We had the pleasure of meeting an amazing travelling family, the Crawfords and were able to host them
at the Air BNB.  We had such a great afternoon and evening together!
We enjoyed a wonderful meal with Raewyn and Charlie on our final day in Thailand.
Charlie BBQ'd, something we hadn't enjoyed in quite some time! 
Raewyn volunteers her time at a children’s orphanage and we emptied out our suitcases of medications, shoes and clothing that we could leave behind with her.  The number of children entering orphanages in Thailand had continued to rise and there was certainly a need for volunteers like Raewyn.  We too would have liked to have volunteered; however, due to an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease, even Raewyn was not able to go in to work.

 Charlie and Raewyn also took us on a tour to the Damnoen Saduak, floating market and the River Kwai – it was amazing.  Like most of my overly romantic conceptions of places I would visit this year, the floating market was no exception.  I had seen photos of beautiful people in colourful boats selling anything from fruits and veggies to souvenirs.  I was excited to finally get to see it, particularly after passing on the floating village in Cambodia.  I was not disappointed, and Mark captured some beautiful photos of our adventure.  Mark loved seeing the River Kwai and visiting the museum there.  The highlight for Charlie and Raewyn, was a stop at the war cemetery on the way home, where Mark played the bagpipes.  Charlie absolutely loves “Braveheart” and the bagpipes and Mark found it a pleasure to play for him and Raewyn.
Heading out to the market.
The market wasn't too busy today.
So fun!
Transactions on the water.
Tour boats and vendors made their way through the canals.
If you wanted anything you just pulled up along side the vendor and started negotiating.
cool eh!?
I just loved the colour and atmosphere.

Mark and his girls at the River Kwai.

The bridge was so beautiful and peaceful today, yet the toll it took to build the
railway was horrific.
'Playing' our respects at the War Cemetery.
Auntie Marilyn had arranged for us to visit Saint Gabriel’s School, where she had worked years back, to meet Atithai and Brother Philip.  We were treated to a private tour of Brother Philip’s butterfly museum, which housed thousands and thousands of butterflies and other insects from Thailand, which he had collected throughout his life.   It was incredible; we saw butterflies and insects, which had been named after Brother Philip, and we even got to see a case of the most expensive butterflies in the world.  The selling price for one of these rare species was 100 000.00 baht, approximately $3000.00 each.  It was an hounour to meet Brother Philip and my insect unit at school just got a whole lot more interesting! 

Atithai, Brother Philip and his assistant showing us some expensive butterflies!
This work of art was created with butterfly wings!
Signing the guest book afar enjoying some mango with Brother Philip.
We couldn't help but take a photo of this office at Saint Gabiel's - it is a different world of education here!

Atithai and his wife Patsy were also a pleasure to meet and we enjoyed a delicious Thai meal at the Ancient House, together.  Patsy wanted to ensure we tried some traditional Thai dishes and one of our favourites was Thai salad, or what we called ‘poppers’.  It consisted of folding a leaf into a cone and filling it with fish, ginger, nuts, shallots, lime, and a sweet palm sugar sauce – the flavour was divine and it was quite fun assembling them and popping them into our mouths.  We enjoyed them so much we ended up ordering them again during our final Thai dinner out.
This is what the poppers looked like - so yummy!

Enjoying a last feast of Thai food!

The crazy part was this beautiful meal along the river cost us less than thirty dollars!
Besides Brother Philip, Atithai and Patsy, Auntie Marilyn had arranged for us to meet her ‘Thai daughter”, Ms. Oum, before we headed home as well.  Ms. Oum, and a couple of her colleagues and friends, Nick and Oui, treated us to a trip to Ayutthaya for the day.  We stopped for an amazing lunch of crab, shrimp, calamari and lots of other Thai treats at a fish market.  Although we had mainly eaten vegetarian while in Asia, we were quite thankful that we embraced the ‘sea (river) food’, it was so tasty.  The fish was rubbed in salt and barbequed to create a mild, mouth-watering flavour, the shrimp were gigantic, and ‘fresh’ was an understatement.  After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to the car to continue our tour when a very friendly baby elephant grabbed my arm – I was shocked!  It is not everyday that you are walking along, deep in conversation, and look up to see an elephant in your path.  Although it surprised me, it was kind of neat to feel the strong trunk wrapped around my wrist.  It was an amazing day and a pleasure to meet Ms. Oum, Nick and Oui.
Preparing the salted fish for the grill
What a great day spent with new friends!
Another feast fit for kings... or queens!
Now this was a surprise!
Making a wish as we add gold to the seven Buddhas
Another stunning temple
My superhero at the toy museum!
On the way home we stopped off for a treat - They are best described as candy floss filled crepes - so delicious!
The people we met in Thailand were beautiful in so many ways.  We felt so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet so many new friends and spend time with them.  Each one of them went out of their way to share their beautiful country with us. Thank you to each one of you!  I have said many times during this adventure that the people we have met have had such an impact on our lives.  So often, it is not the places we have visited that hold a special place in our hearts, but the people we have met along the way. 
Beautiful people! No, not us... Atithai and In!
We are so fortunate to have friends like these!
We fit in some shopping at the world’s largest market and bargained away for some great deals.  The Chatuchak Market covers more than 35 acres with more than 8000 market stalls.  It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Bangkok with a typical weekend bringing in more than 200 000 shoppers.  I do enjoy a good shopping trip, but this was insane!  You name it, you could find it here, at least once.  We quickly learned if you liked it, you had better buy it, because there was no way we would be making our way back to that same stall again later!  Even Mark and Meg, the non-shoppers, enjoyed their time at Chatuchak.
Money can buy you anything in Thailand - so crazy!
Grandma, this photo is for you!  The seamstress is busy working away in the heat on the sidewalk!
Hot chills anyone?
Or how about some shoes?
Fish was plentiful.
Old Siam Mall, silk fabric - check!
We couldn't resist taking photos of the food in Thailand, not only was it delicious but pretty too!
We certainly ended our world tour on a high in Bangkok.  Despite trying to prolong the end, it inevitably came, and to my surprise, I was okay with it.  Although I absolutely loved Thailand and will be back again, I found myself looking forward to starting the journey home, it was time, but why rush off when you can fit in one last pampering session?
Our last day of pampering!
We are going to miss this I think!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Heading Home from Thailand

It is 2:15 am in Bangkok, Thailand.  The fan overhead is rotating 360 degrees, attempting to cool Mark and I as we sleep.  My legs are clammy after having been underneath the covers.  I throw them back in a last ditch effort to cool myself down a little further.  My mouth is dry from breathing the moving air throughout the night.  I’m not quite sure why I am awake at this ungodly hour in the morning.  It will be a long day ahead, and I really should be asleep. 

Instead, I reach over to the nightstand and run two fingers across the smooth mouse on my Mac Air, something I have done countless times in the wee hours of the morning, this past year.  The screen flickers alive, sending a soft hue of light across the room and Mark stirs slightly beside me.  His slow rhythmic breathing indicates he remains asleep.  A few keystrokes later and the last of our Bangkok photos upload to the land of Flickr.  It is much quicker to upload the photos throughout the night, and my body automatically rolls over to the side of the bed to check them periodically as the rest of the house is fast asleep.  Some person known as Soul Surfer has marked more of our photos as favourites.  I’m not quite sure who Soul Surfer is, but they have good taste in photos.  My life is about to change today. I’ll have fewer pictures to manage shortly, and there will be no need to reach for a computer on the nightstand in the middle of the night.

It’s not the only thing that will change as we begin our journey home, and I’m sure I’m going to miss this lifestyle we have grown accustomed to.  We are quite used to living out of our backpacks with limited clothing and shoe options, and starting each lazy day with a world of exploration possibilities.  I ponder how we will fill our days at home.  I’ll need a fridge calendar; there was no need to pick one up at Costco this past Christmas, but I’ll need one again.  I suppose I can buy one when I slip into Hamilton for our appointments.  I’ll have to remember to add that to the list.  Between doctor, dentist, orthodontist, optometrist, and hair appointments I’m going to need a personal assistant, never mind a fridge calendar! Oh the luxuries of living in the first world.  I won’t have to research where to go or barter over the price.  No, there will certainly be no need for that.  Instead, I’ll just hand over a small fortune to the professionals that are deemed necessary and try not to think about the fact that that same amount of money would fund several educational scholarships, healthcare or many, many, more months of travel. 

I don’t think I will ever look at spending money the same again.  Sure, I’ll be making a lot more of it, so that should make things easier, but everything is about to multiply in cost by some very large factor that I don’t want to even think about.  No more gigantic dollar watermelons that we can feed on for days, no more family restaurant trips for less than ten dollars.  Paying pennies for public transportation will turn into hundreds and thousands of dollars being spent on putting two cars back on the road…uggg.  I’ll have to remember to drive again – what will that be like?  Will I honk my horn more? 

I haven’t had much need to think about returning to life at home as it always seemed so far off.  Maybe the fact that our trip is ending has something to do with the reason that I am awake now.   Mark’s Facebook group of travelling families has a term for the transition that takes place when long-term travellers return to their ‘old’ lives.  It is called ‘RE-ENTRY’.  A vision of cute little green aliens piloting their ship through the solar system pops into my mind.  Will it be like that?  Will I feel like an alien in my ‘old’ life? 

For many, ‘RE-ENTRY’ is seamless, for others the lost sense of adventure is too much, and they head back out on the road shortly after their return home.  It will be busy when we get there.  It will be a whole new world for us with house maintenance, cell phone plans, banking, book keeping, swimming lessons, leadership camps, house keeping, visiting with friends and family, living with a schedule, preparing to return to work…

I’m going back to sleep now, it is going to be a long day, and I am going to need my rest.

-To be continued.

Praying for a safe journey home!



Sunday, 6 July 2014

Loving Cambodia

I didn’t expect to like Cambodia.  Our friend had her purse stolen there and I wasn’t really that interested in ‘happy’ pizza and the sex trade.  So, loving Cambodia and adding it to the list of our favourite countries really surprised me.  We opted to divide our time between Kampot, the land of pepper, and Siem Reap the land of everything else!  We avoided Phnom Penh where the purse snatching occurred and where other friends had fed their family ‘happy’ pizza, accidentally! Phewww
The temples were absolutely incredible!
We drove across country for six hours to reach Cambodia and got a glimpse of the real Cambodian countryside.  Small villages with tiny homes on stilts lined the road, ox carts were abundant, and the poverty was apparent.  The homes were tiny, the families large, and everyone slept on wooden floors, with open windows and barely a roof over their heads.  The land was lush and green and the road was under construction – the entire way.  Ugggg.  I suppose that was evidence of improvement or, maybe just very poor planning.  We were later told that the roads are so poorly constructed that rebuilding them is a constant event.
A typical house in the country.

These are traps to catch crickets.  They have a light that attracts the bugs to fly into the plastic.
Once they hit the plastic they drop into the trough at the bottom that has a small amount of water in it.
We saw many platters of crickets and grasshoppers for sale in Cambodia!

Kampot was surprisingly quiet, the roads carried very few vehicles and it was a pleasure to cycle around the town.  The people were so friendly and everyone seemed to move a little slower, which was quite a culture shock from Vietnam.  Bicycles and tuk-tuks were the main form of transportation for the tourists, and the town appeared to be doing well.  There was a river running through Kampot that was clean and swimmable if you wished; however, we did not indulge.  We found the best pulled-noodle and dumpling restaurant ever, and although we were only in Kampot for a few days we ate there twice. Mmmmm so yummy and the noodle pulling show provided cheap entertainment for us all.
Taking the ox for a walk!
Hand pulled noodles and dumplings - so yummy!
Another beautiful sight!
Siem Reap was another thriving area and again we loved the fact that the vehicles seemed to move through the streets with some kind of order.  We felt safe and enjoyed meeting and chatting with the locals.  Many people spoke English, which made things easy.  The level of service the businesses maintain in Cambodia, pleasantly surprised us as well.  When you book a bus ticket, the bus company will pick you up at the hotel, the same goes for shows, and the circus.  Our hotel even offered a free tuk-tuk ride to the city centre as often as we wished, and picked us up at the bus station upon our arrival.  Amazing service!
The Apsara dinner show.
So beautiful and graceful.
Enjoying our tuk-tuk tour.
There seemed to be little evidence of ‘Scambodia’ other than the process of crossing through the border.  We watched our passports and cash head off on a motorcycle towards the border as we sat waiting for our bus to arrive.  We were told that we could pick up our passports at the border – hmmm.  This seemed VERY sketchy to me, but all of our research informed us this was a common practice. Our ‘medical’ that we had to undergo at the border was also interesting.  It consisted of us paying 1$ to have our temperature checked.  My temperature indicated that I was dead, but that didn’t seem to affect my admittance.  We did read that this process could be skipped but for the four dollars American it cost us to have the medical, we didn’t think it was worth it to give the Cambodian border officials a hard time – yikes!

After actually getting into the country, we paid more than fair prices for transportation, food and even the gifts and souvenirs we purchased in the markets.  The hotel booked tickets for us for several things and never charged a commission or inflated the price.  One of the fellows working at Ta Prohm took us on a small tour, offering to take pictures of our family, and never once expected money for his service.  He was just happy to explain about the species of trees and the filming of Tomb Raider that took place there.  Everyone we met seemed friendly, honest and fair. 

The size and scale of the temples amazed us.

We did avoid the floating fishing village, as our research came up time and time again with reports of tourists being taken to orphanages, where children were being used as tourist attractions.  The Phare Circus was an amazing show with the proceeds going to help youth and education.  The performers were awesome and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it.   We also visited the National Museum which housed so many Buddhas we were amazed.  We purchased our tickets for Angkor Wat the evening before we wanted to visit, and took advantage of a few hours of touring around the temples, taking in the sunset.  Every temple was different and beautiful and the pictures we captured there were works of art.  Shopping in the markets was such a fun experience and it amused us to see ‘newer’ travellers excited when they got a dollar knocked off the asking price.  The vendors didn’t make much money off of me, but both sides profited by the fun and comical exchange. I even negotiated a $100.00 tuk-tuk fare from Cambodia to Canada, but I had to include a winter coat in the deal, not bad eh!

The ruins around the temples were massive piles of rubble that were labelled and categorized. Many of the temples had or were in the process of being re-built.  What an enormous undertaking. 
The whole area was a photographer's dreamland.
Squid and fish, hanging out at the market!
Cambodia was a great country to explore for the Mitchells.  Maybe we were just lucky or maybe we have learned a thing or two from others during our travels.  Whatever the case was, we were grateful.  Our next stop is Thailand, the last ‘new’ country we will visit before we start heading back across the world, towards home.  Hopefully it too will rank amongst our favourite places to visit. 

We were amazed at this tuk-tuk called the 'rock and roll' tuk-tuk.  It had a disco ball, air conditioning (hahaha) and several speakers that would play out your favourite tune.  
Based on the gas tank, you may have been 'rolling' home to that favourite tune though!  We were in stitches listening
to the driver try to convince four young Aussie boys to hire him to tour the temples.
"Is your tuk-tuk safe?"
  'Of course, very safe and plays good music too, come look!"
I was laughing so hard I was crying as I took these pictures. 
A little pampering session after checking out the temples.